Tech Update: NASA's Ingenuity, New Delivery Bots Arriving
Welcome to The Macro Mail’s Tech Newsletter. Since our last tech mail, a lot has happened - today’s newsletter discusses artificial intelligence, autonomous delivery and space exploration.
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ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: The EU’s New Rules
The European Union has proposed sweeping AI regulations, hoping to become the world’s first major governing body to set out rules on the advanced technologies that will become prevalent in coming decades.
The European Commission proposed these measures for consideration on April 21st. The regulations will be debated and refined until 2023, then voted on by the European Parliament, the EU’s democratic chamber representing voters from 27 countries, including France and Germany
The legislation sets out rules for the use of high-risk AI, which is determined by intended purpose and the the potential range and irreversibility of harm. Developers and users of high-risk AI would be subject to conformity assessment
Low-risk AI, such as used in video games, chat bots and spam filters, would be unaffected
Facial recognition, which was deemed to infringe on civil rights, would be banned except in essential circumstances such as anti-terrorism policing
Biased algorithms were subject to particular concern. As AI takes a more prominent role in determining credit scores and hiring workers, for example, the EU would seek harsh penalties for the use algorithms with inbuilt biases, in particular those which are demonstrated to be unfairly discriminatory, especially on gender and ethnicity
The rules would apply to any tech company with operations in the EU, even if based abroad. Violating these rules could bring fines of up to 6% of global turnover
As AI technology becomes more prominent, limiting its potential for harm will be a priority. The EU hopes to write the blueprint for AI regulations, as it did for digital data protection with 2018’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It will now have to address two major concerns: that the special exemptions for police and military use would give authorities undue power over civilians, and that expensive regulatory hurdles will stifle the development in the AI industry in the EU.
ROBOTICS: Pizza and Kiwi
Autonomous delivery might be arriving soon. In the past fortnight, two robotics companies have taken steps towards commercializing their technology in the food delivery industry.
Nuro, a California-based startup, has partnered with Domino's Pizza Group, the world’s largest pizza company by global sales. The company will use its fleet of autonomous vehicles to shuttle food orders in the city of Houston, Texas
This deal represents Nuro's first move into food delivery. “Pizza is much more on-demand, and that presents additional operational learnings for us as we continue to scale our fleet," according to head of partnerships Cosimo Leipold
The company already delivers consumer goods such as groceries and prescriptions from retailer Kroger and pharmacy CVS
Meanwhile, Kiwibot revealed their newest product, a delivery bot designed to travel in pedestrianized areas including airports, hospitals, malls and offices
The company already delivers burritos to university campuses, using a remotely-monitored rig, which owes its design inspiration to a 6 year old girl. She made a cardboard model (with heart-shaped eyes) after she deemed the company’s existing robot “ugly”. COO Diego Varela Prada said that the new design “generates engagement and trust. We see the transactional, functional aspect of a robot going hand in hand with the emotional aspect of it.”
In November 2020, Nuro raised $500m from investors including asset manager Fidelity and tech conglomerate Softbank, giving the company a valuation of $5bn, representing the continual interest in developing autonomous technology. Nuro estimates that almost half of short trips in the U.S. are for groceries or errands. Online delivery is a $30bn market, and these robotics companies will likely be hoping that their technology will allow them to usher in a new era of the delivery industry.
SPACE EXPLORATION: NASA Ingenuity
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration successfully conducted its first flight on another planet thanks to its Ingenuity chopper.
Ingenuity - a 4 pound unmanned helicopter - arrived on Mars alongside the Perseverance rover in February, as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term multi-mission project founded in 1993 to explore the nearest planet
The chopper took its first flight on April 19th, rising to a height of 10ft for about 40 seconds. Project manager MiMI Aung described this successful test as NASA’s “Wright brothers moment”
Ingenuity demonstrated that flight was possible in Mars’s unaccommodating conditions. Because the atmospheric density is 100 times thinner than on Earth, the short ascent was the equivalent to flying at 87,000ft on Earth, explained NASA engineers - over double the current terrestrial altitude record
The flight was initially scheduled for April 9th, but had to be delayed after a glitch was discovered while testing the rotors, which have to rotate at 2,400 rpm. The solutions was uploaded remotely on April 16th
Two further test have since been completed, with the most recent test on Monday 26th seeing the chopper travel over 300ft horizontally, flying at 16ft altitude for a total time of 80 seconds
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had warned that, because of unknown factors including wind speed, each test had a significant chance of failing, resulting in permanent damage to the chopper. If the chopper fails to land on its four legs, it has no way of righting itself. Two more flights are planned, to test the limits of the Ingenuity craft
The Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan, which is scheduled to launch in 2027 and arrive around 2035, will require choppers to fly over 100 miles and collect samples of ice and rock. The conditions of extreme cold and methane rain will offer new challenges to the engineers at NASA
The success of Ingenuity represent a huge step for interplanetary flight. Remote choppers could be crucial to space exploration, allowing NASA to investigate impossible-to-reach locations including cliff faces, and guiding rovers and astronauts.
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